The captain of a Dana Point whale watching boat gazed in awe as the 419-foot Navy combat ship made its way up the coast.
But his admiration shifted to concern when he saw it was headed straight for a pair of gray whales.
Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching Capt. Todd Mansur said he noticed the large military vessel on his radar early in his trip but couldn't make out its exact position.
But by 1:15 p.m. Sunday, it was only 1.5 miles off Dana Point's headlands and about to cross paths with two migrating grays his passengers were watching.
"When it got close enough to where we had a situation I finally called on the channel," Mansur said. "It was to my best judgment that they were about to go on top of the gray whales." Mansur radioed the Naval vessel.
The USS Coronado immediately let him know they would steer clear of the whales, Mansur said.
The whales would've likely gotten out of the way, Mansur said, but the enormous ship could have scared them.
"They can get spooked, so that starts to change their behavior such as their surface breathing," Mansur said.
U.S. Third Fleet Lt. Lenaya Rotklein said the ship did stop and changed course in order to avoid the whales. She said the ship was traveling no more than 3 to 5 knots at the time.
"The ship followed proper protocol in accordance with Navy standard operating procedures when marine mammals are in vicinity of the ship," Rotklein said.
The USS Coronado is capable of reaching speeds of more than 40 knots and was built by Austal USA for about $400 million, said Lt. Rick Chernitzer, Navy spokesman.
At the time of the incident, the ship was making its way to its new home in San Diego after leaving Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 27 from the shipyard where it was built.
The USS Coronado made that trip one Mansur wouldn't soon forget, he said.
The passengers "were all really happy that I got the Navy ship to stop and at the same time very excited," Mansur said. "People clapped."